OKLAHOMA CITY (September 7, 2011) – A lawsuit Jenks Public Schools and Union Pubic Schools filed last week targeting the parents of special-needs children is frivolous, cruel and misguided, state Rep. Jason Nelson said today.
“This lawsuit is vindictive and extremely out of line,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “It essentially tells parents: ‘Beware, school administrators will sue you if you dare seek a better education for your special-needs child.’ Seeing such a reckless lawsuit filed at the behest of two superintendents whose salaries total nearly half a million public dollars a year should send cold chills down the spine of every parent in the state.”
Named as defendants in the district court lawsuit are parents who obtained scholarships for their special-needs children through the successful Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act.
Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships allow a student with a disability (such as those with Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school that parents believe can better serve their child. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.
The amount spent on students receiving scholarships to date is a combined total of $197,345 – a sum that is less than the superintendent’s salary at both Jenks and Union.
“Instead of being sued, these parents should be lauded for being engaged in the education of their children. For years, they suffered as these same public schools failed to provide a quality education to their special-needs child. And now these schools are putting their interests ahead of the interests of the child,” said Nelson, who authored the scholarship law.
“The parents did not create the program and are clearly not responsible for enforcing or administering the program. The parents simply obtained a scholarship for their special-needs child as provided for in state law,” Nelson said. “These parents now find themselves in a position where their local districts are trying to punish them in court for simply following state law.”
Nelson said the basic premise of the districts’ lawsuit is troubling.
“There is no difference between this lawsuit and a school district choosing to sue parents who transfer their child to another school district under the state’s open transfer law. In both cases parents make the choice to transfer their child to a different school pursuant to state law and in each case a portion of the money follows that student to the new school,” Nelson said.
The Jenks and Union school boards voted in early August to pursue “any action the superintendent deemed necessary with regard to legal action against appropriate persons and entities."
“Little did the public know that what ‘appropriate persons’ actually meant was: ‘Let’s sue the parents.’ Had the public known that was the districts’ intention, there would likely have been the justifiable outrage there is today over this misguided action,” Nelson said.
“For years we heard that schools did not have enough funding to take care of special-needs children and that it hurt the education of other pupils. Now we have a solution for helping these students – and reducing the burden on the schools. From this lawsuit it appears these superintendents care more about the money than they do about the child,” Nelson concluded.